This is Croydon’s original Town Hall, what was once the beating heart of the old town’s business and trading centre.
The Market House, which is thought to have been built at least by 1609, stood near the corner of the modern day High Street and what was then called – with good reason – Butcher’s Row, and which is now known as Surrey Street.
Built by a local grocer, in common with the practice in many rural market towns around the country, the Market House was used for the sale of butter and poultry, while sheep and cattle which had been herded up from Surrey and Kent were slaughtered for their meat and hides on the market street nearby.
The upper floor of the Market House is thought to have been used for meetings of the town’s leaders, but the building was superseded by a new Town Hall in 1809.
The current Croydon Town Hall, the town’s third, was built in 1895, following more than a decade of committees and planning. Sound familiar?
But as Croydon creeps, glacially slowly, towards its latest town centre reconfiguration courtesy of Hammersfield, with the local council effectively standing on the sidelines cheerleading for anything which may be presented by the developers, some are beginning to ask why Croydon ought not have a suitable building or structure at its centre.
The Croydon town centre developed in the 1960s has often been ridiculed for being soul-less and without character. Indeed, that development, with its shopping mall and twin urban motorways, ripped out the historic character of the town. Fifty years on, there seems to be a real risk that those mistakes could be repeated for the 21st century.
Writing on the Historic Croydon Facebook group, Andrew Kennedy said of the Market House, “This building would have been the centre of Croydon’s market activity and if it had been maintained to this present day would probably mark the centre of town, like market halls and market crosses do in many other historic towns.
“Instead we have nothing.
“Recently we have come to think of the intersection of George Street, Crown Hill and North End as the centre, but there is no real centre now and there is nothing substantial proposed. Some people think it will become the shopping centre, Westfield, but will they have a sculpture or cross or fountain of sufficient stature to mark this?
“I think that the new proposed Civic Space outside the present Town Hall has the opportunity but the developer’s plans are a little underwhelming at the moment and anyway the land is private and we will be totally in the hands of the developer and how generous and visionary they might be.
“One answer is for the council to buy back just sufficient land for a decent town square and just as important make sure that the buildings surrounding it are visionary, epic and iconic. Else it will all be bland and mediocre.”
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